Was J-School Worth It?

Interesting HuffPo piece to mention: dude writes about getting a journalism school – or, j-school – master’s degree and whether or not it’s worth it.

I read it, thought it was okay, if a bit short of much more than personal stuff, and then started thinking.

“Sooo, am I glad I got my j-school master’s?” I asked myself.

Well, let’s see – there’s the stuff in the piece, and its comments, about going to this or that school and therefore having connections. Yeah, I got connections, lots of ‘em, with my fancy Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications piece o’ paper, which currently resides in storage, incidentally, along with the equally schmancy BFA from SFAI.

Thing is, the news industry has changed so much – far worse than anyone could’ve imagined – that if I’d ever gone to school, undergraduate, graduate or otherwise, with the thought of the big bucks shining in me peepers, I obviously got it very wrong.

Fortunately for me, money was never the impetus for anything. Yeah, I know, I’m a moron sitting in a tin can in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains eating crackers for lunch and banging away on an obsolete computer.

But I’ve also still got the taste of blood in my mouth from fruitlessly toiling for some merely half-awful corporation for two years. I tried the normal thing – I got the little red German car, the apartment, the clothes, the shoes … and lots and lots of shit.

And, as my grandparents used to say, “Without your health, you have nothing.” True dat.

Because that’s what I lost when I sold my soul for cold hard cash – and not a lot of it, silly me – which is why I can eat my Ritz from the package with abandon.

I went to art school to be a better artist. I went to j-school to be a better writer. And, in retrospect, I went through fiscal hell to be a better me. Not necessarily a better person. Yeah, I eat organic, I don’t kill things, my carbon footprint is pretty goddamn small.

But I still have a German car. I have a Suburban. I ride a $5,000 bike. So sue me. It’s the second car, and I got it for a third the price of the bike – went pre-2000 “new” VW after the first one crapped out at a mere 150,000 miles and pretty much fell apart. (VW says it wants to be the biggest car company in the world. How about the best, huh? How about a company with decent customer service reps and mechanics who don’t have to be Jedi-masters just to change the goddamn oil? You want a new VW? Talk to me first – I’ll set you straight.) Bought the Suburban at the auto auction too, 225,000 miles on it. Call it recycling!

If I wanted to keep pushing for the gig with the Times, I could’ve, I suppose. There are still jobs in journalism. But overall, if you want to go into journalism, you gotta’ ask yourself why.

Because what I’ve seen is a bunch of MBAs taking over the papers, pushing for bigger profits and scratching their heads once they’ve been lopped off by their board members for bleeding ink.

News, for the most part, sucks. The business, but the news itself, too.

The last time I watched the evening news was, well, if you follow these things you’ll know: the six o’clock Philly news flashed on, and the top story was Sandra Bullock’s husband cheating on her.

Are you kidding me?!? In a city with one murder per day, rampant corruption at every level of government, gentrification pushing up against abject poverty, real estate through the roof, and the Grey Lady calling it the proverbial “fifth borough” thanks to all the wealthy corporate whores commuting every day through 30th Street, this was simply too much to take.

The business of journalism has changed so significantly, anyone who truly wants to go out into the world and talk to those in life’s trenches should probably just write a book. Or hell, a blog. Because I’m surrounded every day by the hard working poor, and they never, ever wind up on the front page. Unless they go postal, that is.

Yeah, I had high hopes in j-school: I got to travel to Lockerbie, Scotland, and hang with the locals for weeks, drive the world’s smallest car to the Appleby Horse Fair, meet some Gypsies and figure out a wrong-side stick shift. Course, that book never did come out…

Doors open with Newhouse on my resume. I got to see the inside of England’s arts initiatives, visit my family in Norway, and even did some work in Punxsutawney, Pa., until covering ribbon cuttings got to be too much and I couldn’t stand seeing that damned groundhog zoo every day.

And I had a great time working for the alternative press in Syracuse and Philly. But that didn’t pay enough to live on.

And so the rub.

If you’re cool with covering useless celebutantes, or you’re a trustafarian, go for it. If you’re okay with living on zero dollars for your art – because writing’s an art, remember – send in the application. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade my education for the world, but then again, I paid my own way, and wasn’t your traditional student. It took me eight years to nab my bachelor’s, and I was already 30 by the time I got to grad school. But for me, the experience was far worth all the pain. Course, if you’re going to school for the post-graduation gig, I can’t really tell you anything.

So for anyone not interested in winding up with nothing but your skills, slaving away like my cohorts from art school, being forever saddled with unbearable debt and watching a bunch of soulless douchebags take the Pulitzer – unless, of course, I someday with said prize…ha! – then stick with something else.

Or … you can always scrape together a few thousand bucks from friends and relatives and buy an 18-year-old camping trailer and really see the world from the ground up! There’s an open spot right next to us if you’re interested in cheap lot rent and even cheaper beer…

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